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Get ready for your world to be rocked: Pixar, it turns out, is not infallible. Crazy, right? But it’s true. Naturally, the studio is among the nominees in the Academy Awards’ best animated short category. Its entry, though, is far from brilliant—it’s not even that cute. Day & Night preceded Toy Story 3 and shows a meeting of the titular characters, two blobby, transparent figures in which characteristics of their namesakes appear, like sunbathers on the beach and movies at the drive-in. At first they don’t like each other and compete by showing off the best of their respective 12 or so hours; then they start to see that the other has cool stuff to offer and become friends. It’s not particularly imaginative, nor visually impressive, and has a weak message about not judging others just because they’re different. Short-form fail.
In fact, none of the entries in the category are mind-blowers. One, Madagascar, a Journey Diary, is a bit of a mess, a busy travelogue (one gleans at the end) that’s rendered as a flipbook of images—they’re psychedelic, or close-ups of random people’s faces, or split frames of chaotic city scenery. It’s over before you can figure out what’s going on. (And the hint is real photos of someone’s trip in the closing credits.) Also less than compelling is The Lost Thing, a story from Australia about a young man who finds a spaceship-looking object in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t know what to do with it until he discovers what’s essentially the Island of Misfit Toys.
Best of the lot includes The Gruffalo, a darling little story (based on a book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler) that is told by a momma squirrel to her babies about a mouse and what it believes is a fictional forest beast. And then there’s Let’s Pollute, an ironic film styled on the worst/best of old-fashioned instructional flicks that encourages kids to ruin the planet. In a segment about eco-unfriendly corporations, the command is to write letters: “Dear Senator: Stop bothering those people that make my toothpaste!”
The live action shorts fare better. Three deal with matters of the heart. There’s The God of Love, a mildly amusing black-and-white film about a young jazz singer who becomes Cupid; The Crush, a more sinister and riveting tale about the lengths a lovelorn boy will go to impress his teacher; and Wish 143, a story about a teenage cancer patient whose request to a Make a Wish-esque foundation is to have sex.
At the other end of the spectrum is Na Wewe, a short standoff involving African terrorists and the division of Hutus and Tutsis, and The Confession, a dark if slightly unbelievable story about the very bad things that happen when a do-gooder and his more mischievous friend try to cook up sins for the kid’s first confession. All five are testaments to the power of storytelling in short form, and deserve their slots for Oscar contention.